I grew up with point-and-click adventure games on the PC. Of all the adventure games of the nineties, Gabriel Knight was in my opinion the best. Recently, a 20th anniversary remake was released of part one. I played that, then replayed the second game immediately after. Because I spent my time playing games instead of writing, I’ll put on my writing glasses and do a review of the Gabriel Knight series. I’ll try to keep the first part spoiler free.
The Gabriel Knight series
The Gabriel knight series has three parts, Sins of the Fathers, the Beast Within, and Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned. The first game has been remade recently for the twenty-year anniversary. The first two games have also been released in book form.
The Gabriel Knight games are supernatural mysteries. The first game involves a string of voodoo murders in New Orleans, the second is about werewolf killings in Munich and the third game is about a kidnapping by vampires. The supernatural mystery drives the games, much like any other murder mystery. However, the characters are what sets these games apart. At least in the first two games, because in those games the plot quickly becomes intertwined with the character arcs and the history of Gabriel’s family. The third game is the odd one out, because the mystery is less tied to the character arcs.
The games follow a ‘standard’ mystery plot. Each start out with a mystery, which deepens as the characters investigate. In the second half of each game, things become clearer, until they reach a climax at the end. This is a very good way to set up a plot, because it pulls the reader/player through the first half of the story with the need to know what is happening, meanwhile building up sympathy for the character which then drives the second half of the story into the climax.
The main characters of the series are Gabriel Knight and Grace Nakimura. Gabriel is an unsuccessful New Orleans writer, who has used his inheritance to buy a book shop where he lives, and which is equally unsuccessful. Grace is a student who is spending her summer in New Orleans and working at Gabriel’s bookshop to earn some money.
The dynamic between Gabriel and Grace is the other driving force behind the series. Gabriel is a somewhat obnoxious self-absorbed man, who plays things by ear. Grace is a down-to-earth slightly elitist woman, who thinks things through. This leads Gabriel doing the talking, while Grace does the research. The two characters are foil characters, and their interactions strengthen the contrast between them. Their underlying romantic tension also deepens the sympathy for the characters who turn out – in both games – to be very human.
The first game focuses mostly on Gabriel’s arc, where he goes from an irresponsible womanizer to actually taking some responsibility and saving the day. The second game focuses on Gabriel having to choose between a hedonistic but evil path and a harsh but good one, and Grace having to choose between her education and being Gabriel’s monster-slaying partner. The third game kind of sticks with the status quo, except at the very end.
By now you can probably sense I was not terribly impressed with the third game.
What helps make the characters is the voice acting. Tim Curry voices Gabriel Knight in the first and third game and he does a superb job. He sells the character through his voice alone. Leah Remini (King of Queens) does the voices for Grace, Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker, and the voice of the Joker) plays Detective Mosely, and Michael Dorn (Worf!) is Dr. John. They all add to the atmosphere of the first and third game.
The second game has other actors, because it is a full-motion-video game. This is somewhat jarring, because the voices are different, but Dean Erickson and Joanne Takahash do a good job as Gabriel and Grace. Honours go to Peter J. Lucas, though, for his excellent portrayal of Friedrich von Glower.
So, on to some spoiling below the image.
Now that we’ve entered the spoiler-filled zone, I can freely talk about one of the aspects of the series that I find really compelling: the villains.
In Sins of the Fathers, the evil voodoo cult is led by Malia Gedde. During the tale, she and Gabriel fall in love, mirroring the love of one of Gabriel’s ancestors for Malia’s ancestor Tetelo. Malia is a kind of the villain, but she is also a puppet figurehead of the evil Tetelo Loa. This makes her a very tragic villain.
The villain of Gabriel Knight 2 is even more interesting. Friedrich von Glower was born a werewolf, because his father was so cursed. During his centuries-long life he’s been trying to find companions who are capable of controlling the curse like he has; only killing a few people each year in secret. However, his attempts at finding companions have all gone badly: King Ludwig of Bavaria became a recluse who tried to fight the curse and kill von Glower until he was put in an asylum and killed himself. His last attempt, Von Zell, went on a killing spree near Munich, triggering Gabriel’s involvement. Von Glower hopes to find an equal in Gabriel, and nearly seduces him to the dark side. He is so tragic, because he could not help becoming cursed, is forced to kill by his nature and fights that, and is desperately looking for companionship.
Go and play the Gabriel Knight games, if you have not already. Or, read the books.